Following the money: How pro-Israel megadonors are working to stop politicians who might uphold Palestinian rights

Following the money: How pro-Israel megadonors are working to stop politicians who might uphold Palestinian rights

These two articles give us a peek into how some uber-wealthy Americans spend big bucks, betting on political candidates with whom they may have nothing in common…except Israel. [jump to 2nd article]

These Are the Jewish Megadonors Helping Fund Biden’s – and Republican Congress Members’ – Reelection Campaigns

by Ben Samuels, reposted from Ha’aretz, February 9, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden’s reelection bid has some tough sledding ahead if the majority of polls that have emerged in recent months are to be believed. His fundraising efforts tell another story, though, with his reelection campaign already raking in significant donations – many coming from longtime Jewish Democratic megadonors.

An analysis of campaign finance disclosures showing contributions to Biden’s campaign and pro-Biden PACs and super PACs for 2023 illustrates a deep groundswell of support from Jewish-Democratic benefactors. They make up a significant portion of the president’s fundraising as he begins his reelection bid in earnest.

The donors in question – many of whom are in the finance industry, with others connected to Hollywood and Silicon Valley – vary in their prioritization of Israel as a campaign issue, as well as their respective involvements in local Jewish communities and philanthropies.

Their steadfast and deep-pocketed support for Biden, however, indicate how the Democratic Party has generations-deep support within the American-Jewish community.

Polls have continuously shown that Jewish voters vastly prefer Biden over Donald Trump, with Israel rarely being among voters’ top priorities. Despite this, American Jews are among the few groups who have stuck with Biden amid plummeting poll numbers (many of which stem from his approach to Israel, which centrist Democrats deem a threshold issue).

Haim Saban attending the 2012 Saban Forum on U.S.-Israel relations gala dinner with Tzipi Livni, left, and Hillary Clinton.
Haim Saban attending the 2012 Saban Forum on U.S.-Israel relations gala dinner with Tzipi Livni, left, and Hillary Clinton. (photo)

Haim Saban is perhaps the key pro-Israel megadonor for Biden, significantly overlapping between both the president’s reelection bid and AIPAC’s United Democracy Project super PAC. He has given over $936,000 to Biden, after donating $1 million to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s super PAC. (While federal political action committees have strict limits on the amounts they can contribute, a super PAC is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to campaign independently for candidates for federal office.)

Saban has long been one of the most important donors and fundraisers for the Democrats, generating millions of dollars for the party over the years. He has also made significant financial investments in pro-Israel organizations such as AIPAC and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

He also collaborated with late Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson on the Israeli American Council, which was founded to organize Israeli expats living in the United States. He told The New Yorker in 2010 that he was “a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

Joining Saban as an overlapping megadonor is casino magnate Neil Bluhm. He has already given more than $1.4 million this cycle to the Biden super PAC, on top of $200,000 to United Democracy Project. His daughter Leslie, a social entrepreneur who sits on the AmeriCorps board of directors following an appointment from Biden in 2021, has given over $554,000.

California leaning

On the other end of the Democratic Party’s pro-Israel political spectrum, J Street’s political action committee has already contributed more than $1.4 million. J Street PAC’s donations, made over the course of 40 separate contributions in 2023, were largely buoyed by $500,000 contributions from career diplomat Jon Greenwald and radiation oncologist Patricia Gordon (both J Street board members).

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros – one of J Street’s previous key political contributors and longtime Democratic megadonor, who has steadily become synonymous with Republican attacks that have too often masqueraded as antisemitic dog whistles – has given Biden $758,000.

Left-wing pro-Israel donations go beyond J Street, though. Michael Sonnenfeldt – co-founder of the Israel Policy Forum, and a massive donor to Israel-related causes like Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Institute for National Security Studies – has given more than $200,000.

Many of Biden’s key Jewish donors are based in California, both in the Los Angeles entertainment and business sector, and Silicon Valley.

Film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg, renowned as one of the most prolific Democratic fundraisers, has given nearly $2.9 million, while his DreamWorks Pictures co-founder Steven Spielberg has given more than $936,000. (The “Schindler’s List” director also said his USC Shoah Foundation would launch a new project aimed at collecting and acquiring testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attack.) His wife, Kate Capshaw, donated the same sum.

Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg attending the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills last month.
Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg attending the Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills last month. (photo)

Entertainment executive Casey Wasserman, who gave the Biden super PAC more than $936,000, also spoke out in support of Israel following Oct. 7, invoking the terror attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics during an International Olympic Committee session in his role as chairman of the 2028 Olympics in LA.

Billionaire investor Peter Lowy donated the same figure. A major benefactor to Jewish causes like the American Jewish University and the Jewish Journal, he is the son of Frank Lowy – who fought in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, before becoming one of Australia’s richest businessmen and chairing Israel’s Institute for National Securities Studies. Lowy Sr. moved to Israel at the end of 2018.

Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, a private investment firm co-chair whose Canadian-American father Charles is one of the most significant Jewish and pro-Israel philanthropists, is another LA-based scion megadonor who donated the same figure.

Attorney Martha Karsh, who is one of LA’s most noted philanthropists (including backing a nationally recognized social services initiative at LA’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple), has given Biden more than $556,000.

Further north in California, Eli Reinhard – a San Jose land developer who is one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific contributors to Jewish philanthropies, as well as Jewish and Mideast-centric programs at Stanford University and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank – has given nearly $927,000.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last September to discuss artificial intelligence, gave Biden $506,000. Alex Karp, the Palantir co-founder who recently flew the data-analysis software giant’s board to Tel Aviv in a show of solidarity, has given more than $366,000.

Sheryl Sandberg, the former Meta executive who has been among the most outspoken public figures attempting to draw attention to Hamas’ use of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attack, donated more than $500,000 to the Future Forward pro-Biden super PAC, as did her husband Tom Bernthal.

Other key donors have been longtime supporters of Democratic candidates and causes, though their Jewish connections are not perhaps as obvious as those previously mentioned.

Biden enjoys significant support from the finance world, particularly among Jewish megadonors in the northeast.

Jim Simons – who grew up in the heavily Jewish Brookline, Massachusetts, before becoming one of the most successful Wall Street investors of all time – has given more than $3.6 million, alongside his wife Marilyn. Their daughter, educator and philanthropist Liz Simons, and her investor husband Mark Heising, have given Biden $800,000.

Simons’ longtime colleague Henry Laufer and his wife Marsha, an institutional Democratic donor and power player, have given more than $865,000. Hedge fund manager Stephen Mandel and his wife Susan, who have largely given to education causes as well as the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, gave Biden $832,000.

Another anti-Trump megadonor worth noting is Seth Klarman, the hedge fund manager and Times Of Israel co-founder who strayed from the Republican Party following Trump’s ascendance. Klarman has given Biden more than $409,000.

Deborah Simon, daughter of late shopping mall magnate and philanthropist Mel Simon, has also donated at least $1 million in support of Biden. The Indiana-based Simon has long been a supporter of Jewish causes and charities, specifically the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Anti-Defamation League. The co-chair of NFL club Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Avram Glazer – whose family has been deeply involved in Jewish philanthropic causes across the United States – also donated more than $888,000.

Some of Biden’s most important and long-standing donations, meanwhile, came from the finance world. Jonathan Lavine, co-managing partner of Bain Capital (the Mitt Romney-founded investment firm), and his wife Jeannie have cited “bedrock Jewish values” in their prolific Jewish philanthropic efforts. They have contributed over $832,000.

Joshua Bekenstein (Lavine’s co-chair) and his wife Anita have donated over $819,000 – part of the Massachusetts couple’s long history of giving to the Democratic Party, accompanied by their charitable contributions via a donor-advised fund with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.

Venture capitalist Bob Goodman and his wife Jayne Lipman – a board member for American Jewish World Service and benefactor to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee – have contributed $677,000.

Robert Stavis, Goodman’s colleague at Bessemer Venture Partners, is treasurer of the ADL’s board and active in the Westchester Jewish Community Services alongside his wife, Amy. They have contributed over $654,000.

In Chicago, hedge fund manager Michael Sacks and his philanthropist wife Cari have given Biden more than $613,000. They also give to a wide array of Jewish organizations, like synagogue Am Shalom, Birthright Israel Foundation and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.

Amy Goldman Fowler, “the world’s premier vegetable gardener” and billionaire heiress to late real-estate investor Sol Goldman, gave Biden $450,000. Daniel Tishman, who runs the New York construction behemoth named after his family, has given Biden more than $381,000.

There are dozens more Jewish megadonors who have given Biden at least $100,000, further illustrating the deep support the president will enjoy from the Jewish community ahead of what is sure to be a bruising national election campaign.

Uber-wealthy Republicans are funding Democratic primaries in a very big way – to unseat pro-Palestine Congress members.

by Alexander Sammon, reposted from Slate

The presidential field is basically set, but before the Trump vs. Biden rematch begins in earnest, there are still a bunch of highly contentious primaries for the House and Senate left to be decided. On the Democratic side, none will draw more attention and money than the campaign to knock the Squad—the famed young, progressive legislators of color—out of Congress. And now, thanks to the most recent round of fundraising reports filed to the Federal Election Commission, we know exactly who’s funding that campaign.

Surprise! It’s Republican billionaires and megadonors.

Let’s back up: During the 2022 midterms, one of the super PACs affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group—called the United Democracy Project—spent more than any other outside group during the Democratic primaries. Yes, it was spending on Democrats. But it boosted only conservative Democrats who were in races against progressive legislators, in part because progressives are, as a whole, willing to criticize Israel, and sometimes even question unconditional military aid to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

AIPAC’s most successful sally in 2022 was kicking Andy Levin—not only one of the most prominent Jewish members of the House, but also a former synagogue president—out of his House seat in Michigan, in favor of a more conservative, non-Jewish representative in Haley Stevens. (Levin had dared to indicate support for a two-state solution, introducing a bill that would have prevented U.S. aid from being used to fund Israeli settlements in the West Bank and that recognized East Jerusalem as “occupied territory,” among other provisions.)

And all of that was before Israel’s devastating war in Gaza began.

Now, AIPAC has made it a clear goal to defeat every progressive Democrat it can in 2024. At the end of January, Federal Election Commission filings revealed that the United Democracy Project super PAC already had $40 million on hand by the end of 2023, nearly double the $26 million it spent on the 2022 midterms. Those numbers will likely skyrocket further.

Massive though it is, the dollar figure is actually less notable than who donated it. Of the top 10 biggest donors to the Democrats-only super PAC during the past six months, boosters of Donald Trump abound. GOP megadonor Bernie Marcus, former CEO of the Home Depot, kicked in $1 million. An LLC affiliated with Bob Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots (who gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration) chipped in $500,000. Paul Singer, another billionaire financier—and Nikki Haley megadonor, and Rudy Giuliani fundraiser—also kicked in $1 million. (Singer is perhaps best known as the luxury vacation sponsor of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.)

Singer and Marcus also sponsored AIPAC’s guerrilla campaign to overrun the Democratic primary process back in 2022; some of the even more generous donors in this cycle are new to the project. The top individual United Democracy Project donor during the past six months was Jan Koum, billionaire founder of WhatsApp. He donated $5 million to UDP over the final half of 2023; during that very same period, he also gave $5 million to the super PAC of Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.

Behind Koum was financier Jonathon Jacobson, who contributed $2.5 million. Jacobson has a long history of political giving; since 2008, the top beneficiaries of his largesse, other than the $1 million he gave UDP Project in 2022, have been Republican super PACs, Republican candidates including Scott Brown and Lindsey Graham, and Republican fundraising committees, including Mitch McConnell’s National Republican Senatorial Committee. David Zalik, who gave $2 million, is a Haley, Giuliani, and Mitt Romney donor as well…(more)


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